the proud owner of Zip Mercerie in Le Havre, France
by Rita Vainius
a passion for needlework has turned anyone's life around dramatically,
it has been that of Daniele Bertin! Daniele is the proud owner
of Zip Mercerie in Le Havre, one of France's busiest ports. She
was a post war baby raised in Normandy, in a blue-collar environment,
with an upbringing grounded in the virtues of honesty, courtesy
and propriety. Though blessed with an insatiable curiosity for
life and a strong aptitude for learning, her formal education
ended at age 14 when she had to leave school to get a job.
Daniele married at age 24 and subsequently bore 2 sons and a
daughter. Divorced since 1992, she has worked hard to provide
a secure and comfortable home for them. While still married,
Daniele began to long for a satisfying career of her own. She
decided to return to work, but at age 40, not having a diploma
was a huge handicap in finding a job. She opted to set up her
own business - a traditional dry goods and notions store. Dry
goods refers to textiles and related merchandise, but in France
such a shop tends to be more specialized and caters to finer
and more delicate work also. Additionally, Daniele offered custom
clothes alteration and other tailoring services. This aspect
became the basis for the name: Zip as an abbreviation for zipper,
with a connotation for fast turn-around service; and Mercerie,
defined in French as a shop which carries a variety of merchandise
used in the sewing of garments, their decoration and finishing,
along with items for household decor. Daniele applied herself
vigorously to her small shop and earned a reputation for diligence
and devotion to her clientele.
all was not a bed of roses. Three years later, Daniele found
herself in dire straights: behind on the rent while simultaneously
going through the emotional trauma of a divorce. These crises
began to wreak havoc with her self esteem and erode her self
confidence. It was during this upheaval that a new pursuit helped
to restore some balance to her life and, before long, to also
ease some of her financial woes. What was this amazing restorative
for both her bruised ego and her struggling business? None other
Embroidery had been on the decline in France for many years.
Daniele chanced upon it just as interest was on an upswing. As
she was "good with her hands," this growing popularity
was a real stroke of fortune, coming when it did. During her
darkest hours a number of friends had come to her aid offering
much needed moral support. She credits one friend in particular,
who is no longer alive, in helping her through this difficult
period. Daniele will be eternally grateful to this very special
individual for imbuing her with the will to persevere. This friend
was also the catalyst responsible for uncovering Daniele's unique
aptitude for embroidery. From then on Daniele's life took on
a new purpose and her business, a new direction.
in the fabric business, Danielle was somewhat familiar with different
needlework techniques and had already begun adding related merchandise.
As her own interest in the needlearts grew, she applied herself
to learning as much as she could from the meager supply of books
available. She acquired enough expertise and assurance to offer
some classes, which over time evolved into an extensive needlework
curriculum. The needlework school was established 5 years ago
and her students have remained extremely loyal. Her classes intensely
interactive, breeding a special feeling of camaraderie along
with a tangible sense of accomplishment. Small wonder that so
many of her students have become close friends.
Hardanger was the first needlework technique which Daniele taught
herself, employing German and American patterns as guides. She
then tackled silk ribbon embroidery and thereafter, numerous
other techniques. As she progressed and honed her skills, Daniele
began to adapt what she had learned to suit her personal tastes
and artistic preferences. This experimentation resulted in a
distinctive personal style. Daniele describes her specialty as
"peinture a l'aiguille," literally translated as "painting
with a needle." She works straight from life, with nature
as her model. A mixture of techniques, stitches and threads is
used to add texture and give dimension to her work. The emphasis
on her current tapestries is to imbue them with Rococo stylistic
spent several years struggling to expand her business by moving
it to a more spacious quarters. In France a single mother encounters
great difficulty in trying to secure a business loan or credit
line from the banks. In a typical "Catch-22" situation,
banks are willing to lend money only to those who already have
it! About a year ago Daniele found the perfect spot to realize
her dreams to grow the business. Determined to find a way to
accomplish her goal, Daniele persisted in applying to every financial
institution in town. Just at the moment she felt she would have
to give up, one lender finally approved her request. Ever since,
Daniele has been on a roll, determined more than ever to make
her vision a reality.
The new space required a great deal of renovation. In collaboration
with a contractor-friend, plans were drawn up for the store design.
The decor consists of natural wood beams and panels with white
accents and trim, resembling in appearance the look and atmosphere
of a classic wooden boat. The theme reflects her superb aesthetic
sense coupled with her twin passions of scuba diving and sailing.
The finishing and detail work became a labor of love completed
by Daniele, her children and friends. The surroundings are cozy
and comfortable, yet elegant. Trade in needlework supplies has
increased, as has class enrollment. "All is well,"
Daniele asserts with a grin and sparkle in her eye.
Though she has been stitching for over 6 years, it was not
until 3 years ago that Daniele came across the Caron threads.
Daniele prefers them as they are "so marvelous and fun to
work with." Her fondest wish is to be able to carry the
entire Caron Collection line. With her recent relocation, this
wish may soon become a reality. Her students are great fans of
these fibers and just as eagerly await this new development.
continually strives to perfect her skills so as to fulfill her
primary mission of introducing others to the joys and personal
satisfaction to be found in doing needlework. She is ever conscious
of the enormous changes it has made in her own life by fostering
an abiding sense of renewal, faith in herself and eager anticipation
for what the future holds. Daniel truly feels that she has been
granted a whole new lease on life. " At age 50, what a thrill
it is to feel newly born," she exclaims!
As a confirmed fan of the Worldwide Web, Daniele is thrilled
to have the opportunity to share her work with stitchers throughout
the globe, excited by the seemingly endless new possibilities
for the exchange of information and ideas. She hopes that by
sharing her experience, others will be encouraged to pursue their
dreams and realize their own potential through stitching. Daniele
has become a devoted advocate of restoring the needlearts to
their rightful place as useful, important and desirable skills
to acquire and preserve for future generations - everywhere.
Daniele Bertin can be contacted at Zip Mercerie, 81 Rue de Paris,
76600 Le Havre, France
phone and fax: 02 35 21 61 73
Special thanks are extended to Jane Gohorel of East Marion, N.Y.
for her invaluable help with translation as Daniel Bertin speaks
very little English. Coincidentally, Jane has family in Le Havre,